Astronomical Education and Outreach on Hawaii Island by ghkgkyyt


									                                                                                                      June 2007, Issue 4

Astronomical Education and Outreach on Hawai‘i Island
                            Hawai‘i is home to one of the      Mauna Kea Management, and contributions by each
                            most diverse and advanced          of the observatories. Additional revenue is provided
                            collection of astronomical         through sales at the First Light Bookstore/gift center
                            research institutions on           and donations. The VIS is very proud of its active
                            our planet. The expertise,         community volunteer program in which about 200
                            technology and infrastructure      volunteers provide nearly 10,000 man-hours per year.
                            assembled in our island
                            state is definitely unique,        While the VIS educational programming is highly
                            especially to the communities      visible and effective, each of the observatories on Mauna
                            which host us.                     Kea has established innovative outreach programming
                                                               and partnerships. These partnerships are evident in
                             Sharing the knowledge             flagship programs like the annual AstroDay program
revealed by the giant eyes atop Mauna Kea is critical to the   (, Journey through the Universe
enhancement of the human experience but is especially          (, FamilyAstro, and three StarLab
important for the people in our local communities. In          portable planetaria. Combining this sampling of diverse
the early 2000s the facilities collectively known as the       programming with classroom presentations, public
Mauna Kea Observatories established a group called             lectures, career days, robotics programs, science fairs,
the Mauna Kea Observatories Outreach Committee                 teacher workshops, open houses, and tours, it is obvious
(MKOOC, irreverently pronounced M-KOOK!), to                   that Big Island astronomers are heavily engaged in—
coordinate and advance local outreach activities on            and committed to—our communities.
Hawai‘i Island (the “Big Island”). Representatives from
most of the observatories on Mauna Kea participate in          In February 2006, a new era of Big Island cultural
the monthly MKOOC meetings.                                    and astronomical education began with the opening
                                                               of the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i (www.
Originally MKOOC was established to support and       Located adjacent to many of the
complement the programming of the Mauna Kea                    observatory headquarters in the University of Hawai‘i
Visitor Information Center (VIS) which is located just         at Hilo’s University Park, the new center has rapidly
below the astronomers’ quarters at Hale Pohaku at              become an icon for sharing Big Island astronomy and
the ~9,000’ level of Mauna Kea. The VIS is without             Hawaiian culture.
doubt at the core of any Big Island outreach/education
effort for local students, residents and visitors. With        ‘Imiloa provides residents and visitors with an
an estimated 100,000 visitors annually, the VIS offers         innovative experience of Hawaiian culture with roots in
evening stargazing every night of the year through             celestial observation and navigation tied to the modern
telescopes as large as 16”. Recently, the VIS has been         science of astronomy studied from Mauna Kea. More
renovated to better accommodate the large crowds that          than 15,000 square feet of exhibits and a state-of-the-
can exceed several thousand on nights of special events        art planetarium are integrated under three titanium
such as meteor showers.                                        cones that represent the three primary volcanoes that
                                                               make up (and are making) the Big Island. In addition
The VIS is operated by Mauna Kea Observatories                 to the exhibits on traditional Polynesian culture,
Support Services (MKSS) and all VIS programs are               navigation and contemporary astronomy, the center
free of charge to the public. Funding is provided by           hosts the innovative National Oceanic and Atmospheric
the University of Hawai‘i Institute for Astronomy
(IfA), the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Office of                                                    continued on page 
    : The AAS Education Newsletter

                                     About This Issue
                                     With this issue of SPARK, timed to
                                     coincide with the 210 th Meeting of
                                     the American Astronomical Society,
                                     in Honolulu, HI, you can read about
                                     programs in astronomy education in
                                     Hawai’i and the contributions of the
                                     Mauna Kea-based observatories to these
                                     efforts. Dr. Richard Crowe, professor
                                     at the University of Hawai’i – Hilo
                                     provides an introduction to the culture
                                     of the islands and the navigation and
                                     astronomy knowledge that enabled
                                     Polynesian voyagers to reach and
                                     populate such distant (from the Asian Pacific) lands. Dr. Crowe and
                                     the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai’i will present a StarLab
                                     program on Polynesian Voyaging in the Exhibit Hall at the 210th
                                     Meeting on May 29 and 30.

                                     Discussion on Pluto’s “demotion from planethood” continues
                                     in this issue with Neil de Grasse Tyson’s article on the negative
                                     and positive aspects of the scientific discussions surrounding the
                                     processes and factors by which we classify astrophysical objects.
                                     I’m always pleasantly surprised at how strong is the public’s
                                     interest in particular astronomical topics, and especially when
                                     they develop iconic stature in our culture.

                                     Mary Kay Hemenway, past Education Officer of the Society, offers
                                     her insights on the developments in astronomy education over
                                     the last decade or so. I note that the undergraduate reception,
                                     which she and Peter Boyce started continue (now dubbed the
                                     Undergraduate Orientation) to be held at every AAS meeting.
                                     Attendance grows every year; about 10-15% of meeting presenters
                                     being undergraduates!

                                     HEAD (High Energy Astrophysics Division) gives us news of
                                     their Education and Outreach Activities in two articles on page
                                     14 by Kathy Lestition and by Lynn Cominsky. Meet the Solar
                                     Physics Division (SPD) new Education and Outreach Committee
                                     on page 15.

                                     And for those of you looking for good resources on astronomy
                                     education, read the review by Alex Storrs of the NSTA’s Handbook
                                     of College Science Teaching, and catch up on the latest articles
                                     published in the 10th Issue of the Astronomy Education Review
                                     (table of contents is listed on page 13).
                                                                                     continued on page 10

                                                                                                   June 2007, Issue 4

Administration’s “Science on a Sphere,” the Space
Telescope Science Institute’s “ViewSpace,” a 4-
dimensional (including time) theater called “4D2U”
(sponsored by the Subaru Observatory through the
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan) and
a mock-up of a real observatory control console
donated by the Gemini Observatory presenting a
Virtual Tour experience for visitors.

Going beyond K-12 and general public education
an public outreach, the University of Hawai‘i at
Hilo (UHH) offers undergraduate courses and a
degree program in astronomy (www.astro.uhh. With more than 65 students currently      ‘Imiloa Astronomy Education Center of Hawai‘i.
enrolled in this program, it is among the 10 largest   Photograph by Kirk Pu‘uohau-Pummill, Gemini Observatory
undergraduate astronomy programs in the United
States. Students enrolled in this UHH program
routinely observe from Mauna Kea using a devoted
24” research telescope and plans are underway
to replace it with a 0.9-meter remotely operated
educational telescope equipped with modern

Also for undergraduates is the annual Akamai
Observatory Internship Program which is administered
in Hawai‘i by the W.M. Keck Observatory (www. This
program is funded by the U.S. National Science
Foundation through the Center for Adaptive Optics
and partners with several of the observatories on
Mauna Kea to provide real research challenges          Master Teachers who represented 18 schools on the Big
for undergraduates from Hawai‘i Island and             Island, DOE Administration and Astronomy educators who
beyond. “Mentoring a student in this program           participated in Journey through the Universe 2007 on the Big
was something I would definitely do again,” said       Island
Dr. Scott Fisher of Gemini Observatory. “The input
of the student(s) on the scientific projects we were
working on was invaluable. I also think that giving
the students “real world” projects to work on really
helps them later in their academic careers.”

On a global scale the research enabled by Mauna
Kea changes humanity profoundly. By engaging
observatory researchers and staff in local outreach
the connection becomes personal and the impact
even more profound.

Peter Michaud
Public Information and Outreach Manager,
Gemini Observatory                                     Astronomers and astronomy educators from the Journey
Mauna Kea Observatories Outreach Committee,            through the Universe 2007 program that was held January
Chair                                                  19-27 in Hilo, Hawai‘i
        : The AAS Education Newsletter

Reaching out and Impacting Local Communities
Twice a year AAS members meet in different cities          models and the local community. AstroZone will have
around the country to discuss and share current            similar outcomes by providing a venue where the local
scientific research. Between 700 and 3,000 scientists,     community and AAS members can come together to
education specialists, and others convene in a selected    share the excitement of science.
city for four days only to leave again, most of the time
unnoticed by the local community. Yet these different      Both the Educator Reception and AstroZone allow the
meeting locations provide a unique opportunity for         AAS and its members to more actively interact with
the AAS community to make an impact nationally             the local communities in the cities where meetings are
by sharing our excitement in science and leaving an        held and ensure that we make an impact, and leave and
imprint on every city we visit. Stating this summer, two   imprint, in every city we visit. The Educator Reception
new events to build connections with local communities     allows teachers to build a more concrete and personal
will be hosted: an Educator Reception and AstroZone.       connection with current science content which they can
                                                           then impart on their students, while AstroZone makes
The Educator Reception, held on Saturday evening, is       science more accessible to the general public by making
a reception for local K-12 teachers. Throughout the        it fun and exciting for families, teachers, and kids while
event, participants are provided the opportunity to gain   changing their perception of what science is and what
background knowledge and collect resources to take         scientists are.
back to their classrooms that pertain to press releases
and scientific presentations planned for the conference    The Educator Reception and AstroZone are sponsored
week. K-12 educators often express the desire for          by the AAS and Association for Astronomy Education
deeper background scientific content knowledge and         (AAE) and co-organized by Jake Noel-Storr (AAS AEB/
one-on-one interaction with scientists. The Educator       AAE President) of Rochester Institute of Technology,
Reception encourages both—through presentations            Insight Lab and Emilie Drobnes (SPD EPO chair/AAE
by astronomers and a reception where scientists and        Vice-President) of NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center.
teachers have the opportunity to mingle and interact       For more information on these events please visit the
with each other. Armed with the content knowledge          AAE website (
gained and the resources collected, educators will have
the tools to engage their students throughout the week     Emilie Drobnes
of the conference—and beyond—using the excitement          NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center
of current science.
                                                           Jacob Noel-Storr
                                 AstroZone: Hawai‘i is a   Rochester Institute of Technology, Insight Lab
                                 four-hour open house
                                 for local families,
                                 teachers and kids to
learn about the cool science currently occurring in the
field of astronomy. On the Sunday afternoon prior to
the AAS meeting, participants have a chance to meet
scientists, do hands-on astronomy and take home lots
of cool astronomy related resources collected during
their visit. The AstroZone program takes its inspiration      Join us for the Texas Educator Reception and
from an existing and successful model. Held the               AstroZone: Austin on Jan 5th and 6th 2008. Please
Sunday prior to each of their annual meetings, the            contact the organizers Jake Noel-Storr (jake@cis.
                                                     and Emilie Drobnes (emilie.drobnes@gsfc.
American Meteorological Society (AMS) hosts the
                                                     if you are interested in participating in
WeatherFest program, with over 2,000 participants and
                                                              these events!
volunteers, which brings together scientists, area role

                                                                                                    June 2007, Issue 4

Developing a Vision for AAS Education and
Outreach Activities
                              The Astronomy Education      of astronomy education research by supporting
                              Board (AEB) of the           The Astronomy Education Review (
                              American Astronomical        as the premier scholarly avenue for publishing results
                              Society is charged with      of astronomy education research. As such, this effort
                              leading the education        should serve to increase the awareness of AAS members
                              mission of the society       about the value, and nature of, astronomy education
                              and has spent the last 12    research.
                              months deeply engaged
                              in strategic planning.       Along another avenue of education and outreach,
                              Of the nearly countless      the AEB believes that the AAS has an important role
                              aspects that could be done   in ensuring the availability of high quality, accurate,
                              regarding the spectrum of    and effective astronomy content for the public. This
                              education, and scientific    can be accomplished in a variety of print and online
communication in general, our society focuses on five      resources including providing useful information, tools
key ideas that prepare students and support members        and training for AAS members who conduct outreach.
in pursing a wide range of career paths. These are to      The Ancient Universe booklet is an ideal example of
promote and support: (1) training the next generation      such an activity. This effort can also provide pathways
of astronomers to be successful scientific researchers;    to increase the number of members who are actively
(2) training the next generation of astronomers to be      engaged in outreach to the public.
successful educators; (3) research on the teaching and
learning of astronomy; (4) increasing the scientific       Finally, the AEB believes that the AAS has a responsibility
literacy of all and sharing the excitement of astronomy    to increase access to, and pathways through, education
with the public; and (5) increasing the participation      programs for underserved populations to participate
of underserved populations in astronomy. Without           in AAS activities, and astronomy in general, by (i)
question, each of these goals is much easier said than     ensuring that the design of all AAS educational
done. However, the AEB members feel strongly that          activities incorporate the best practices related to
these goals are consistent with the overall mission of     diverse populations and (ii) increasing the number of
the AAS and that our AAS members, in particular, have      AAS members who incorporate this perspective in their
knowledge, skills, resources, and inclination to work      scholarly endeavors. The primary strategy to accomplish
together to meet these important goals.                    this is to actively seek genuine collaborations with AAS
                                                           committees e.g. the Committee on the Status of Women
As a first step, the AEB has designated several specific   in Astronomy (CSWA) and the Committee on the
objectives as highest priority, first-steps targets. One   Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA), on cross-
of these is to substantially increase the number of        cutting activities such as increasing visibility at other
interested, well-prepared undergraduates from all          professional and scientific meetings that emphasize the
backgrounds entering—and successfully completing—          inclusion of a diverse population of scientists and bring
graduate school, pursuing astronomy related research       the results of these activities to the AAS membership.
along a multitude of career paths. In addition, the AEB
is targeting efforts to increase the amount of training    Tim Slater
in pedagogy that is part of faculty enhancement, and       AAS Education Officer
graduate education, nationwide. In support of these        Univ. of Arizona
two goals, the AEB is striving to increase the number
of high-quality papers published by providing peer-
reviewed forums for sharing methods and results

        : The AAS Education Newsletter

Pluto Reclassified: Educational Impacts and
Part Two of a Two-Part Series

In our last issue of Spark (Issue 3), we explored Pluto’s reclassification through the insights of Mark Sykes of the
Planetary Science Institute in his article The Great Planet Debate. He shared his views on the potential negative
educational impacts of this particular reclassification scheme, as well as the positive educational opportunity it
provides to discuss the nature of science. In this issue, Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural
History—where, in 2000, they were the first public institution to classify Pluto with its icy brethren of the Kuiper
Belt—shares his own views on the negative educational impacts of emphasizing simple planet counting and name
memorization, as well as the positive educational opportunities provided by considering multiple-classifications
based on the potential for scientific research and discovery.

Gina Brissenden & Jacob Noel-Storr, Editors

Pluto’s Requiem
                                I t ’s o f f i c i a l . P l u t o   Plutophiles had about a week to rejoice before the
                                is not a red-blooded                 assembled IAU delegates voted. According to the
                                planet, as decreed in                final, amended IAU definition, a planet should still be
                                August by a vote of                  round, but must also dominate the mass of its orbital
                                the General Assembly                 zone. In other words, a full-fledged planet must not
                                of the International                 have competitors in its zone. Poor Pluto is crowded by
                                Astronomical Union.                  thousands of other icy bodies in the outer solar system,
                                Pluto is now a “dwarf.”              some of which are bigger than Pluto itself, so it fails
                                                                     the test. To soothe Pluto’s boosters, the IAU’s elected
                               At first the IAU seemed               to call it a “dwarf planet,” without entirely quantifying
                               ready to defend Pluto.                what a dwarf is.
                               On August 16, the union’s
                               seven-member Planet                   All this embarrassment stems from a simple problem.
                               Definition Committee                  The term “planet” had not formally been defined since
                               released a draft Planet               the times of ancient Greece, where the label originated.
                               Definition Resolution,                The word simply means “wanderer” and referred to the
                               which stated that round               seven prominent celestial objects that moved against the
objects in orbit around the Sun are planets. Pluto is a              background of stars. They were Mercury, Venus, Mars,
round object in orbit around the Sun. Therefore Pluto                Jupiter, Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon. So influential
is a planet. This definition would have given everyone               were these celestial wanderers on classical culture that
the right to utter Pluto and Jupiter in the same breath,             the names of our seven days of the week can be traced
even though Jupiter is a quarter-million times larger.               to them.
The draft resolution would also have opened the door
to granting planet status to at least three objects that             Life got more complicated in 1543, when Nicolaus
had, until recently, been considered unworthy.                       Copernicus described a newfangled, heliocentric

                                                                                                    June 2007, Issue 4

universe. Instead of remaining stationary in the middle,    Jupiter. Then it dropped back to seven once again, after
Earth moved around the Sun just like the others. From       these four planets—and any others yet to turn up in the
that moment onward, the term “planet” had no official       zone—were demoted to asteroids. Once Neptune was
meaning, and astronomers tacitly agreed that whatever       discovered in 1846, the total became eight.
orbits the Sun is a planet, and whatever orbits a planet
is a moon.                                                  After the discovery of Pluto, the tally rose to the now-
                                                            familiar nine. Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh had found
Not a problem if cosmic discoveries had ended in 1543.      Pluto through a dogged search for a long-suspected
But shortly thereafter, we learned that comets orbit the    “Planet X” beyond Neptune, and everyone initially
Sun too and are not, as long believed, local atmospheric    assumed he had found something large. Refined
phenomena. Comets are icy objects on elongated orbits       measurements showed the object to be much, much
that throw off a long tail of gases as they near the Sun.   smaller than originally thought, smaller in fact than six
Are they planets too?                                       satellites in the solar system, including Earth’s moon.

How about the craggy chunks of rock and metal that          Then, for that one week in August, there were 12
orbit the Sun in a region between Mars and Jupiter?         planets. The IAU’s roundness criterion added Ceres,
When Ceres, the first of these objects, was sighted by      the only gravitationally round asteroid; Pluto’s moon
Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801, everyone called it a planet.       Charon, which is unnaturally large compared with
With the discovery of dozens of more, however, this         Pluto; and 2003 UB313, temporarily but affectionately
new community of objects clearly deserved its own           called Xena, after the leather-clad, medieval Warrior
classification. Astronomers called them asteroids, and      Princess from cable television. Now, officially, we are
now have catalogued tens of thousands of them.              back to eight—the nine you memorized in grade school,
                                                            minus Pluto.
Even the traditional planets don’t fit into one neat
category. Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars form a             If my overstuffed email inbox is any indication, this
family because they are relatively small and rocky,         game of planetary enumeration remains a deep concern
while Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are large,       of elementary school students and the mainstream
gaseous, have many moons, and bear rings.                   media. After all, counting planets is what allows you to
                                                            invent clever mnemonics to remember them in sequence
The story took another twist in 1992, when David            from the Sun, such as “My Very Educated Mother Just
Jewitt and Jane Luu of the University of Hawai‘i began      Served Us Nine Pizzas.” Or its likely successor: “My
finding frozen objects on the solar system’s fringes, out   Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos.”
beyond Neptune. They had discovered a new swath
of space traffic, akin to the discovery of the asteroid     But such exercises have stunted the curiosity of an entire
belt two centuries before. Known as the Kuiper belt,        generation of children by suggesting that memorizing
in honor of the Dutch-born American astronomer              a sequence of names is the path to understanding
Gerard Kuiper who predicted its existence, this region      the solar system. The word planet seems to hold an
of the solar system contains Pluto, one of its largest      irrational sway over our hearts and minds. That level
members. But Pluto has been called a planet since it was    of fascination made sense in the days before telescopes
discovered in 1930. So should all Kuiper belt objects be    could observe details in planetary atmospheres; before
called planets?                                             space probes had explored Mars and bulldozed into a
                                                            comet; before we understood the history of asteroid
Without a consensus definition for the word planet,         and comet collisions that links celestial bodies large and
these questions provoked years of pointless debate          small. But today, the rote exercise of planet-counting
among people for whom counting planets matters. The         rings hollow, and stands in the way of appreciating the
geocentric universe contained seven planets. Then what      full richness of our cosmic environment.
became the heliocentric solar system contained six.
With the discovery of Uranus in 1781, the figure rose to
seven again. Then it jumped to 11 with the discovery of
the four largest bodies in the zone between Mars and                                              continued on page 10

        : The AAS Education Newsletter

Suppose other properties are what matter to you.               round, or whether it is the only one of its kind in the
Interested in cyclones? You might lump together the            neighborhood. Why not rethink the solar system as
thick, dynamic atmospheres of Earth and Jupiter.               multiple, overlapping families of objects? Then, the
Interested in the chemistry of life? Icy moons like            way you organize the properties is up to you. The fuss
Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus may be the             over Pluto doesn’t have to play out as a death in the
best extraterrestrial places to find liquid water, a crucial   neighborhood. It could mark instead the birth of a whole
ingredient for biology. Or suppose instead you care            new way of thinking about or cosmic backyard.
about ring systems, or magnetic fields, or size, or mass,
or composition, or proximity to the Sun, or formation          This article is adapted from Neil’s “Requiem for a
history. And the discovery of planets around other stars       Solar System,” which appeared in Discover magazine,
has exposed entire new categories like “hot Jupiters”—         November 2006.
giant, gassy worlds heated to near-incandescence by
their astonishing proximity to their suns.
                                                               Neil deGrasse Tyson
These classifications say much more about an                   Hayden Planetarium
object’s identity than whether its self-gravity made it        American Museum of Natural History

Full Circle
                              It’s been ten years since        that producing a science-literate populace was a
                              I completed my term as           solution for our country’s problems. The National
                              Education Officer for the        Academies began the process of devising national
                              AAS. When I began my             science education standards. Astronomers came to the
                              service, I did not foresee       table rather late—after the decision had already been
                              the huge advancements            made to group space science with earth science rather
                              in astronomy education           than with physical science. The Society was invited to
                              that would occur over a          provide input to the National Committee on Science
                              six-year period. Among           Standards and Assessment of the National Research
                              the initiatives for the          Council. Each new version of the content standards had
                              AAS, Peter Boyce (then           a different colored cover, and they arrived periodically
                              Executive Officer) and           for review by the Education Advisory Board. My role
                              I obtained NSF funding           in the review process expanded when I was invited to
                              to sponsor awards for            join the Coalition for Earth Science Education to provide
                              undergraduate research;          input on standards. The earth science community
                              as part of this effort, we       seemed to me to be a swarm of separate groups that
began to host a special undergraduate reception at             had previously been more in a competition mode than
meetings. NASA funding was used to sponsor two-                in a cooperative mode. The standards project provided
day workshops for schoolteachers that were held in             a reason for their communication and cooperation. As
conjunction with Society meetings across the country.          the “token astronomer,” I found myself in the midst
In addition, regular education sessions were held at the       of a group of geologists of various flavors with an
Society meetings.                                              occasional oceanographer or meteorologist appearing.
                                                               Since everyone felt that the essential material from their
But the big change came from outside forces. On the            discipline was necessary for every student to learn, it
national scene, the book Science for All Americans had         made for many interesting conversations, discussions,
come out the year prior to my election. It answered            debates, and compromises. If everyone had succeeded,
the 1983 publication A Nation at Risk with a belief            a basic education in the US would not be grades K-12,
                                                                                                     June 2007, Issue 4

but something like K-25. Eventually we worked our           I’ve continued presenting teacher professional
way to a final document. I recall my passionate (and        development workshops at McDonald Observatory,
useless) pleas for including “comparative planetology”      on a smaller scale than the American Astronomical
as a link between the earth and space sciences. The         Society Teacher Resource Agent program, but now
inclusion of a topic entitled “origin and evolution of      impacting annually a larger number of teachers. And,
the universe” seemed like a victory. Of course, working     most recently, I found myself last month as the “token
with the standards project meant more than arguing          astronomer” at the Earth and Space Systems Summit—a
over what content was essential. It was an opportunity      national meeting held to identify the essential principles
to learn about the other standards—the standards on         and concepts of Earth and Space Science for an eventual
how to teach, on professional development for teachers,     high school capstone course.
the use of inquiry in the classroom, and new ideas on
alterative assessment.                                      The AAS and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
                                                            (for which I now serve as secretary to the Board of
Many of the ideas that were so well presented               Directors) offer all astronomers opportunities to become
in the National Science Education Standards were            involved in various aspects of astronomy education,
simultaneously, but perhaps more slowly, creeping           public outreach, and astronomy education research.
into the college classroom. Just as government agencies     Both societies provide support for those just starting
supported K-12 teacher professional development             their involvement, as well as a venue for sharing
to promote the standards, support from government           ideas. Astronomers have an opportunity to bring the
agencies and college authorities promoted new efforts       excitement of our science to students at all levels, and to
in teaching science to undergraduates; and with these       answer the appeals made so many years ago to increase
funds, came forth efforts to show what was effective—in     the science literacy of the general public as well as
other words, astronomy education research.                  prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers.
                                                            Take advantage of these opportunities.
I feel I’ve come full circle since completing my
term as Education Officer. I’ve sampled astronomy           Mary Kay Hemenway
education research and participated in the University       University of Texas at Austin
of Texas Discovery Learning project for undergraduates.

About this Issue continued from page 2

Lastly, you will find a schedule of all education-related   I hope you enjoy this issue.
sessions and workshops at the 210 th Meeting on
page 16.                                                    Sincerely,

All submissions, including letters to the editors, should   Susana Deustua
be sent to the editors, Gina Brissenden (gbrissenden@       Director of Education and Jake Noel-Storr (     American Astronomical Society

The Newsletter is published twice per year. To receive
a printed copy please subscribe by sending email to         Susana Deustua is the Director of Education of All issues of SPARK are also            the Society, and is responsible for managing and
available at          implementing the Society’s education and outreach
for viewing online or for downloading in PDF. Email         programs.
alerts will be sent to AAS members when a new issue
is published.
        : The AAS Education Newsletter

Handbook of College Science Teaching
Edited by Joel Mintzes & William Leonard                     Another section (three chapters) addresses pre-college
Published by National Science Teachers Association           science teaching, although as may be expected the
(NSTA) Press                                                 emphasis is on producing students who are successful
                                                             in undergraduate science courses. In particular the
                                                             suggestions at the end of chapters 4, 8, 13, 16, 31, and
                              The literature on teaching     33 can help focus the intentions of a college teacher at
                              science at the college-        any level or institution.
                              level is voluminous and
                              can be intimidating to         The major weakness, acknowledged by the editors,
                              the instructor who is          is completeness. The authors are writing about their
                              not trained in the field.      particular interests, and so not all topics are well
                              Landmark publications          covered. In addition, the editors have minimized
                              like How People Learn          the problem of continuity by grouping the chapters
                              (Bransford et al 2000;         into sections; however, frequently a chapter contains
                              see Spark, Issue 1,            information pertinent to other sections. Perhaps the
                              for a summary) are             best way to approach the collection is to look at the
                              monolithic, with each          chapter titles and see which of them pique your interest.
                              chapter depending on           You would be well served to dip into other chapters,
                              the previous, and are thus     though—you never know what might be applicable to
                              difficult to absorb.           your situation.

The Handbook of College Science Teaching is a breath of      As more and more of the general population goes
fresh air. The editors issued a “call for proposals” to      to college, a smaller and smaller proportion of our
the science education community, and from this have          students in general science will be prepared to absorb
assembled a collection in which each chapter stands on       the material via traditional methods. In NSTA Reports
its own. The fairly short (less than 10 pages per chapter)   (vol. 18 no. 8, April 2007) we read that “nearly 15%
format allows even the busiest of adjunct instructors        of public school graduates from the class of 2006
to gain an introduction into the latest techniques for       achieved an AP exam grade of three or higher (the score
teaching science. Chapters on attitudes and anxiety,         indicative of college success) on a scale of one to five
experiential learning and interactive engagement,            during their high school years.” So, if 85% of incoming
concept mapping and peer instruction, and many more          students did not achieve scores “indicative of college
innovative techniques are elegantly laid out. There is       success,” it behooves all of us to find better ways to
an entire section (six chapters) on “Innovative Teaching     encourage success. The Handbook of College Science
Approaches”. It’s like having a faculty coffee room          Teaching provides many possibilities for us learn about
available on your bookshelf.                                 some of these better ways.

For the practitioner of education research, there is a
good deal here as well. Questionnaires that have been        Reviewed by Alex Storrs
used to assess student’s attitudes and knowledge are         Towson University
available at the end of many chapters, as are references
to many more. Standardization of such instruments
and metrics cannot help but improve the comparison
of different pedagogical approaches. There is also good
advice for the instructor who wants to break into the
education research field.

                                                                                                  June 2007, Issue 4

New Issue of Astronomy Education Review Is Published
The latest (tenth) issue of Astronomy Education Review     Innovation and Resources
(AER), the web-based journal/magazine for everyone
involved in astronomy education and outreach, is now        •   The Human Orrery: A New Educational Tool
available at the AER web site ( The        for Astronomy by D. J. Asher, M. E. Bailey,
featured papers and articles in this issue include:             A. A. Christou, and M. D. Popescu (Armagh
                                                                Observatory, Northern Ireland)
Research and Innovation
                                                            •   Survey of Introductory Astronomy Textbooks:
 •   Different Reward Structures to Motivate Student            An Update by David Bruning (University of
     Interaction with Electronic Response Systems in            Wisconsin-Parkside)
     Astronomy by Patrick M. Len (Cuesta College)
                                                            •   SABER: The Searchable Annotated Bibliography
                                                                of Education Research in Astronomy by David
 •   Astronomy Diagnostic Test Results Reflect Course
                                                                Bruning (University of Wisconsin-Parkside),
     Goals and Show Room for Improvement by
                                                                Janelle Bailey (University of Nevada, Las Vegas),
     Michael C. LoPresto (Henry Ford Community                  and Gina Brissenden (University of Arizona)
                                                            •   Planetfinder: An Online Interactive Module for
 •   What’s Educational about Online Telescopes?:               Learning How Astronomers Detect Extrasolar
     Evaluating 10 Years of MicroObservatory by                 Planets by Richard McCray, University of
     Roy Gould, Mary Dussault, and Philip Sadler                Colorado
     (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
                                                           Opinion and Commentary
 •   Learning about Gravity I. Free Fall: A Guide for
     Teachers and Curriculum Developers by Claudine         •   Astronomy Education Review: A Five-Year
     Kavanagh (Tufts University) and Cary Sneider               Progress Report and Thoughts about the Journal’s
     (Museum of Science, Boston)                                Future by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College) and
                                                                Sidney Wolff (NOAO)
 •   Learning about Gravity II. Trajectories and Orbits:
     A Guide for Teachers and Curriculum Developers         •   Teaching What a Planet Is: A Roundtable on the
     by Claudine Kavanagh (Tufts University) and                Educational Implications of the New Definition of
     Cary Sneider (Museum of Science, Boston)                   a Planet conducted by Andrew Fraknoi (Foothil
                                                                College and the ASP)
 •   Development and Validation of the Light and
     Spectroscopy Concept Inventory by Erin Bardar          •   A First Glimpse of Student Attitudes about Pluto’s
     (Boston University and TERC), Edward Prather               “Demotion” by Michael LoPresto (Henry Ford
     (University of Arizona), Kenneth Brecher (Boston           Community College)
     University), and Timothy Slater (university of
                                                           Plus announcements of conferences, awards, and other
 •   Effectiveness of Amateur Astronomers as Informal      When you go to the AER site, you may see that the next
     Science Educators by Michael Gibbs and Margaret       issue is already under way. If so, you can find the full
     Berendsen (ASP)                                       10th issue by clicking on “back issues” and then on
                                                           “vol. 5, no. 2”.
 •   Towards a Methodology for Informal Astronomy
     Education Research by Nicholas Stroud (Teachers
     College, Columbia University), Meghan Groome
     (National Governors Association), Rachel              Sidney Wolff & Andrew Fraknoi, AER Editors
     Connolly (American Museum of Natural History),
     and Keith Sheppard (Stony Brook University)
        : The AAS Education Newsletter

Education Updates from AAS Divisions and Committees
High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD)                   Horizon: Education with Black Holes” was held at
The High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) of the        the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland,
AAS carries out a very active E/PO program, generally      and was designed to accompany the planetarium
related to the high energy missions.                       show “Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity.” The
                                                           planetarium show was developed with funding by the
Chandra E/PO activities                                    National Science Foundation and NASA’s Gamma-
Kathy Lestition                                            ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) mission. It
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory                      was directed by Tom Lucas and was produced by the
                                                           Denver Museum of Nature & Science in association
The Chandra program continues to offer a variety of        with the PBS science series, NOVA. Tom Lucas also
workshops through the NSTA national and regional           directed a one-hour NOVA episode about black holes,
meetings, and in other geographical settings. Our          titled Monster of the Milky Way, which premiered on
short course at the 2007 national meeting, “Decoding       October 31, 2006. Both the planetarium and NOVA
Starlight: From Pixels to Images” was selected as one      shows feature groundbreaking, scientifically accurate
of five short courses to be highlighted as a part of       simulations of black holes which are visually stunning,
the Technology: Research and Practical Applications        transporting viewers to the edge of the event horizon
(ISTE) strand. In addition to a number of short term       and beyond. The black hole simulations used software
workshops, we are planning three week-long programs        developed by Professor Andrew Hamilton from the
this summer in conjunction with Taylor Observatory,        University of Colorado. On the search for black holes
McDonald Observatory, and with the AAVSO at the            across deep space, viewers also encounter a range of
University of New Orleans. The Cycle 8 EPO peer            spectacular cosmic wonders visualized by the National
review selected 9 proposals for funding. The multi-        Center for Supercomputing Applications, including
wavelength Braille book, Touch the Invisible Universe,     a depiction of the beginning of the Universe, the Big
produced with Cycle 6 funding, has been printed and        Bang, endless seas of dust and gas drawn together
will be released this summer. The deadline for EPO         by gravity to form the first stars, the collision of two
proposals in Chandra Cycle 9 has been extended to          galaxies that cross paths in the vastness of space, and
Friday, Nov. 2, 2007. The public web site was reviewed     a virtual trip into the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
by Schoolzone, the UK’s leading evaluation service         The planetarium show is available through Spitz, Inc.,
for online educational resources and rated “Highly         and is now showing world-wide.
Recommended”. We have developed a series of
podcasts about Chandra operations and science. The         The SSU E/PO group has put together a resource
first episode was awarded the 2007 International Pirelli   website that includes complete presentation
award for science and technology communications,           materials for the teachers’ workshop, as well links
physics division. More details on all of the above can     to downloadable materials such as the black hole
be found on the Chandra public web site at www.            educator’s guide which accompanies the planetarium or contact Kathy Lestition at          show, a “Frequently Asked Questions” brochure about                                Black Holes (available in both English and Spanish)
                                                           and links to the PBS NOVA website for the television
Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity                    program, other black hole classroom activities, cool
Lynn Cominsky                                              black hole games, and more. For more information,
Sonoma State University                                    see
On October 11, 2006, the Sonoma State University
Education and Public Outreach Group held a                 The chairs and education representatives
teacher’s workshop in conjunction with the AAS/            of all AAS Divisions and Committees are
High Energy Astrophysics Division meeting in San
Francisco. The workshop, entitled “Beyond the Event        invited to submit updates to the editors.

                                                                                                      June 2007, Issue 4

Meet the Solar Physics Division Education &
Public Outreach Committee!

Left to right: Emilie Drobnes, Zoe Frank, Pete Riley, Rich Wolfson, Jie Zhang

Emilie Drobnes (chair) is the EPO lead for the Solar          Rich Wolfson is part solar physicist, part science
Dynamics Observatory (SDO) at Goddard Space Flight            educator. As a solar physicist, he focuses narrowly
Center (GSFC) and is changing people’s perceptions of         on the physics of the solar corona. As an educator he
science, one project at a time. She is the mastermind         takes a broad look at all of physics. He’s published both
and design diva behind the development of a multitude         textbooks and books for general audiences, and has
of NASA related formal and informal education and             produced video courses with The Teaching Company.
outreach efforts around the country, with a particular        Solar physics manages to seep into all his educational
focus on Solar and Heliospheric Science. In her spare         activities, and the SPD Education/Public Outreach
time, Emilie jumps from airplanes, sings karaoke, and         Committee offers an excellent opportunity for Rich to
rides mechanical bulls.                                       combine his interests in solar physics and education.

Zoe Frank spends most of her days helping to produce          Jie Zhang is an assistant professor in Computational
beautiful image of the Sun to stimulate the imagination       and Data Sciences Department (CDSD) at George
of kids of all ages. Zoe works with the gurus of the          Mason University (GMU). He is also serving as the
Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab in Palo            director of Space Weather Lab at GMU. In addition
Alto, CA and rubs elbows with the great minds of              to having fun teaching, he is interested in solving the
Stanford University. She spends her off hours basking         long-standing mystery in our solar system: why the Sun
in the sunlight in her backyard.                              intermittently produces huge eruptions that produce
                                                              space storms and disrupt critical human technological
During the day, Pete Riley masquerades as a Space             systems in space. He likes to make use of the state-
Physicist at Science Applications International               of-the-art computational technology, such as imaging
Corporation in San Diego studying the large-scale             processing, machine learning and data mining, to
structure of the solar corona and inner heliosphere and       help scientific research. He also enjoys swimming and
the initiation and evolution of coronal mass ejections.       playing ping-pong.
He uses MHD codes running on supercomputers to
verify that spacecraft measurements are correct. When
not at work, he’s the husband of the most tolerant
woman in the world, father to 3 children, an IronMan,
and ultra-distance runner.
Education and Related Sessions at 0 Meeting
   : The AAS Education Newsletter

May -, 00 - Honolulu, HI

Saturday, May , 00                                Poster Session 5: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
NASA CAE Workshop                                     Citizen-Scientists and Public Astronomy
9:00 am-5:00 pm                                       Exhibit Hall
Hawaii Convention Center
                                                      Poster Session 5: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Educator Reception for K-12 Science Teachers          Citizen-Scientists and Public Astronomy
Sponsored by Lockheed Martin Advanced                 Exhibit Hall
Technology Center and the AAS
5:00pm-8:00pm                                         Wednesday May 0
Ala Moana, Carnation                                  Explore Polynesian Voyaging in the StarLab Portable
                                                      9:20 am, 12:45 pm. 3:30 pm, 5:00 pm
Sunday, May , 00                                  Exhibit Hall
NASA CAE Workshop
9:00 am-5:00 pm                                       Poster Session 73: 10:00 am – 6:30 pm
Hawaii Convention Center                              Career Issues

AstroZone: Hawaii                                     Poster Session 80: 10:00 am – 6:30 pm
12:00-4:00 pm                                         Education in Practice – From K-12 to Undergraduate
Convention Center                                     Exhibit Hall

Workshop 1:00 – 5:00 pm
Education and Public Outreach by NASA Researchers     Thursday, May , 00
Ala Moana                                             Special Session 111: 10:00 am – 11:30 am
                                                      Women of Solar Physics: Status and Science
Undergraduate Orientation                             Room 318
Garden Rooftop                                        Oral Session 116. 10:00 am – 11:00 am
                                                      Astronomy Education and Public Outreach
Opening Reception                                     Room 323 C
Garden Rooftop                                        Poster Session 73: 9:20 am – 2:00 pm
                                                      Career Issues
Monday, May , 00                                  Poster Session 80: 9:20 am – 2:00 pm
Special Session 31: 10:00 am – 11:30 am               Education in Practice – From K-12 to Undergraduate
Native Hawaiian Astronomy and Navigation              Exhibit Hall
Room 314
                                                      Astronomy Education Research Town Hall Meeting
Poster Session 5: 9:20 am – 7:00 pm                   12:45-1:45
Citizen-Scientists and Public Astronomy               Room 315
Exhibit Hall
                                                      Committee on the Status of Women
                                                      12:45 – 1:45 pm
Tuesday May                                         Room TBA
Explore Polynesian Voyaging in the StarLab Portable
9:20 am, 12:45 pm , 3:30 pm, 5:00 pm

Exhibit Hall

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